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Original Issue

Big Man on Campus

An aspiring dentist instead became an institution at Winston-Salem State

In the summer of 1945, 22-year-old Clarence Gaines took a job as the lone assistant coach on the Winston-Salem basketball team, figuring he'd spend a year or two there before moving on to dental school. But after the Rams' head coach resigned in '46, Gaines took his place on the bench. By the time he retired from the historically black school in '93, Big House (he stood 6'4" and weighed 275 pounds) had won more collegiate games (828) than anyone but Adolph Rupp (876).

On April 18 Gaines died at age 81 from complications from a stroke. Gaines could be strict--especially when it came to class work--but he also was a father figure to his players, staying in contact long after they left school. He enjoyed his finest season in 1967, coaching an unranked team led by future NBA Hall of Famer Earl Monroe to a 31-1 record and becoming the first black coach to win an NCAA title at any level. Monroe was among the more than 2,000 who gathered last Friday in Winston-Salem to remember Gaines, who now ranks fifth on the wins list. Said former Georgetown coach John Thompson, "He was one of the men who came before me who took a lot of stuff so I wouldn't have to." --Andrew Lawrence




Monroe said his coach (in '55) was "a big teddy bear."